Thoughts on a hot issue

Try as I might, I couldn’t remain silent any longer. There is a major issue floating around in ELT circles at the moment and I felt obligated to weigh in on it. It is inescapable. My twitter feed is awash with references to the issue so I thought I’d dip my toes in a bit. I will apologize in advance for my limited understanding of this extremely important and complicated issue. I think it is a delicate and contentious issue and I’d like to tread as carefully as possible and I hope readers will let me know if I have missed anything or gone too far in any direction.

A few years back Chia Suan Chong wrote about this issue and did a much better job of looking at both sides of this issue than I will or could. I think her post offers a very good starting point and I also think the comments are well worth reading. I am particularly interested in why this is such a hot issue and how we can turn what I see as negativity into something positive and maybe even start a healthy, open and honest debate.

Like many hot button issues there are people on both sides who think they have it all figured out. What worries me in this case is  (what feels to me as) strident tones and the lack of respect for those who don’t happen to hold the same opinion. The issue seems unnecessarily charged in an emotional sense. I hope we can all step back and examine the issues rationally while making attempts to understand the other side.

It should go without saying that a respectful conversation on this topic would be free of name calling. I hope I have heard “fuddy duddy,” “Buzz Killington,” “curmudgeon,” “wet blanket,” “imperialist,” “toady,” “wannabe”  and “tool for the American Cultural-Industrial Complex” for the last time in relation to this issue. What I’d love to see is mutual respect and understanding along with an 88% reduction in name calling.

In this field we are seemingly able to get along and and look past disagreements even when we don’t see eye to eye on things like dogme, TBL, order of acquisition, some sort of black box or something, the importance of research and a whole host of other issues. For whatever reason, this issue seems more divisive than the others. I feel critical friendships and teaching families could be destroyed if we are not careful. So let’s be careful and not succumb to fear and judgment.

From my view, it doesn’t typically make sense to get worked up about the pedagogical decisions other teachers make. It is their choice and we don’t tend to know how their classes actually go anyway so it always seems odd to me to judge others when we don’t know the whole story and have an obviously incomplete picture. Last year I tried to write about how I can’t and don’t care what other teachers do in their classes.

I used the word choice in the previous paragraph but I also think it is worth considering it is not always the teacher’s choice. Sometimes directors and other admin foist their views and expectations upon working teachers who might be then forced to act in ways they would not otherwise. This sounds to me like another reason to not presume much based on what teachers do in class. It can be choice and we *should respect that but it is not even always a choice anyway.

I think another part of what fuels the divisiveness on this issue is how wrapped up in things like culture and identity this issue is. When I talk about identity here I am talking about both teachers and students alike. I am, once again, back to the EFL and ESL distinctions but I am not entirely sure how the different sides of this dichotomy would tend to fall on this issue or why exactly. Here in Korea, and outside of the English teaching world, it was interesting to see  Korean celebrity (and “person who has had a beer with Michael Griffin”) Hong Seok-Cheon get embroiled in a controversy related to the issue.

Whether you teach it, celebrate it, ignore it, hate it, fear it, or are ambivalent about it I’d like to wish you a happy Halloween. Thanks very much for reading and congrats for making it nearly to the end of this post. Just to be perfectly clear I was mostly not serious at all in this post and the TIC-R (Tongue in Cheek Rating) was 8.7/10.

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Creative use of visuals.

As I bit of clarification, I am not trying to say that people I know have actually been arguing about All Hallows’ Eve at all. I just made up the whole controversy but I do think there are some lines drawn in the leaves about what people will and will not do in class and perhaps this topic is one of them.

And for some further clarification, I wrote above that it is an “important and complicated issue.” I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t, because I think there are very real and serious questions here related to culture and the teaching of it. This is one of the most interesting things for me about living in an ELF world. I am also interested in ideas and questions related to what it actually means to “teach” certain holidays and what the expected outcomes from this might be aside from the vague “raise awareness” or something like this. I think Chia’s point in the post linked to above about not lecturing is an important one.

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One comment

  1. springcait

    You got me! I was so serious reading it from the beginning and thinking ” Gosh, another burning issue I have no idea about” – yeah, that’s how you make people read your posts;) and I got a bit annoyed reading such a long what I thought was an introduction. Thanks for that – it’s an enjoyable experience to be tongue-in-cheeked this way.
    Speaking about the burning issue itself, I love this holiday and I love lessons about Halloween. At the same time I hate telling about its history or traditions. I do it my own way. I usually teach some related vocab – witch, vampire, Jack etc. My favourite Halloween activity is story-telling with various tasks before, during and after. Sometimes I offer my students to sing a song (the best H-song is “This is Halloween”) or watch a part of a scary film.
    The benefits of this way are: I have fun doing all that, I don’t harm anyone’s feelings too much – they learn some vocab and do revise some grammar why story-telling where they also can do a lot of speaking. And finally, it’s not boring. My students are adults and they know at least something about the day, so no need to go over and over it again and again.
    Thanks for the pleasure and for the topic. It’s interesting to know how other teachers treat this holiday.

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